The Wild Bunch (HD-DVD) Studio: Warner Home Video Rated: R Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 HD Encoding: 1080p HD Video Codec: VC-1 Audio: Dolby Digital Plus: English 5.1; French 2.0; Spanish 2.0 Subtitles: English; Spanish; French Time: 145 minutes Disc Format: 1 SS HD-DVD Case Style: Keep case Theatrical Release Date: 1969 HD-DVD Release Date: September 25, 2007 Sam Peckinpah’s star had been on the rise by the time he began work on The Wild Bunch through various westerns on television and in the few features he directed after that. But it wasn’t until this picture that he truly defined himself as a director and ushered in a whole new era in American cinema. When it was released in 1969, The Wild Bunch was both hailed and slammed for its graphic violence, the likes of which had rarely been seen on screen, let alone in the fairly tame westerns that were quickly becoming a dying breed. Peckinpah, inspired by his love of the genre as a child, coupled with where he grew up, made the western as it should rightly be shown, as a violent, ruthless world where loyalties shift and the code among men rules. Pike Bishop (William Holden) leads a daring robbery in Texas in 1913. As he and his crew (including Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson, Warren Oats and Bo Hopkins) escape after a huge shootout, they find their loot is nothing more than some worthless metal washers. Pike wants to do a final job so he can retire from this nomadic world of violence. Robert Ryan plays Deke Thorton, a former partner of Pike’s, who betrayed Pike in the past. Thorton is put on the trail of Pike and his group, and he’s given 30 days to bring them back. Pike and his crew land in a Mexican border town and strike an uneasy job with a Mexican general hell bent on revolutionizing his country. The general needs guns, and there is an Army train that has them. As the outlaws steal the weapons and deliver them, they soon learn of betrayal by one of their own. Pike and his crew, having suffered through enough betrayal in their lives, make a decision to put things right in whatever bloody and violent fashion necessary. The picture contains three of the best action scenes you’re ever likely to see on film. The first shoot out sets the tone for what is to come, with its extensive use of bright red blood, fast cuts, and camera push-ins. By the time the shootout is over, you feel almost as exhausted as the bandits, and I can only imagine what it would be like sitting in a theater in 1969 and experiencing this. Peckinpah introduces us to a boozy, slutty world in which Pike and his crew live. Sex seems to be equal in importance to the booze and loot to the men, and I cannot figure out how they function as well as they do with as much liquor that goes in them. Regardless, the picture’s main themes of loyalty, honor among men and doing the right thing no matter how hard (or deadly) it may be still comes through in the end. These themes are just provided to us in a much more visceral way, allowing The Wild Bunch to transcend its genre and make an impact on the language of film that is still felt today. Video: Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 11-S1 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 1080p. I am using a Toshiba XA2 player and utilizing the HDMI capabilities of both units. The projector is doing the scaling to 1080p due to some technical issues with the Toshiba player. The picture is in VC-1, encoded at 1080p and it is framed at 2.40:1. The picture is striking with a limited color palate of desert tans and browns, the bright, blue sky, and the occasional greenery. Colors appear to be accurate. Flesh tones show the leathery faces of each of the actors quite crisply, and they always seem to be covered in a sweaty sheen. There is a lot of dust and dirt in all of the locales of the story, and this new disc had no problem resolving these sometimes difficult scenes. Sharpness is inconsistent, at times being very good, and others not so much, giving us a soft picture. Detail in both the fore- and background is good. Black levels are good and do not fringe or bleed, and shadow delineation is equally as good. Edge enhancement was visible throughout. The transfer shows a couple minor instances of dirt. I noticed no difference in picture quality between this disc and its Blu-Ray counterpart, which is also encoded in VC-1. Audio: Note: The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track was attained by the HDMI connection of the Toshiba to a Denon 3808CI. The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track really doesn’t give us much more than what a standard DD track or even a 2.0 track would provide. Almost the entire picture is centered in the fronts, with only occasional information coming from the surrounds. ADR is very evident throughout the picture, especially in the opening shootout. I noticed a minor amount of hiss in the track, but otherwise it was clear and free of distortion or other noise. LFE’s engaged a couple times, specifically in the gun battles. The Blu-Ray has a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that is basically the same; I noticed very little if any difference between it and this one. Bonus Material: With the advent of HD-DVD, we are faced with several different audio and video codecs being used on each disc. Due to this, I have begun adding the encoding details as part of the explanation of bonus features when applicable and relevant. For this release, the extras are in MPEG-2, 480p unless otherwise noted. Both the HD-DVD and the Blu-Ray contain the same extras. Commentary by Peckinpah biographers/ documentarians Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle: the participants do an excellent job describing the background about each scene and making comments on Peckinpah along the way. There is rarely a quite moment with everyone sometimes tripping over each other. This is a very thorough and detailed look at the movie by four of Peckinpah’s best biographers. Sam Peckinpah’s West: Legacy of a Hollywood Renegade (82:35): This exceptional documentary covers Peckinpah’s life and film career with interviews from noted film critics and other actors he influenced, such as Billy Bob Thorton and Michael Madsen. Each of the participants tells it like it is, describing Peckinpah to be not such a great person, and how he channeled his life experiences into his work. There is quite a bit of vintage promotional clips and behind the scenes shots of his pictures. The piece is well worth the time and it has built my desire to get the rest of the Peckinpah library. The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage (33:14): testimonials from cast and crew, compiled from a variety of sources, are read by voice actors with behind the scenes film playing in the background. This is a very good making of for the time. An Excerpt from A Simple Adventure Story: Sam Peckinpah, Mexico and The Wild Bunch (23:47): documentarian Nick Redman compiles behind the scenes shots and raw footage to give us a different look at how the movie was made. There is also a visit to the Mexican locations Redman took in 2004. Additional Footage/ Outtakes (8:47): a montage of outtakes from the river, desert, train robbery and bridge sequences. Sam Peckinpah Trailer Gallery (16:04): trailers for The Wild Bunch, Ride the High Country, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, The Getaway, and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Conclusions: This genre busting western comes through spectacularly on HD-DVD. I’m continually pleased with the attention Warner’s is giving to these catalog releases, with a great picture and exhaustive extras that give you a detailed look at the director.